Anybody here use iTunes' built-in "backup" feature? A couple of questions ...

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GadgetGuru72

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Anybody here use iTunes' built-in "backup" feature? A couple of questions ...

Until recently, my backup routine has consisted of having copies of my music and video collection on multiple external hard drives. I finally got around to purchasing an external DVD burner, so I'd like to backup my collection to DVD as well.

I like the idea of using the iTunes backup feature, because it allows for incremental backups and copies the database and playlists. However, I'm curious to know how well this actually works. I've used programs that purport to do backups and incremental backups and I've been disappointed in their performance.

So, my first question is simple: how well does the iTunes backup really work?

Second question: in the iTunes help pages, it says:

To create backup CDs or DVDs:
Choose File > "Back Up to Disc" and then select your options.
Insert a blank disc (CD-R, CD-RW, DVD-R, or DVD-RW)
Click Back Up.
iTunes burns the number of items that fit on one disc, and then asks you to insert subsequent discs to continue burning the remaining files.
I typically use DVD+R (no real reason, just happened that way). The help pages only make reference to DVD-R. I assume this is just an oversight, or perhaps they're using DVD-R to designate all writable DVDs. Anyway, I'm just seeking confirmation here. Will iTunes accept DVD+R?

Third, are the files that get backed up using this feature only accessible using iTunes restore? In other words, can I just open a disc burned using this feature in Windows Explorer and browse the contents?

Finally, when doing a restore, do you have to restore everything, or does iTunes allow you to select what you want to restore? If I have a 100GB iTunes collection and 2GB of files become corrupt, I'd like to be able to restore that 2GB and not have to restore all 100GB. Is this possible?

Anyway, thanks in advance for any help you can give. I just want to know what I'm getting into before I even bother trying this out.

Thanks!


Edit: One last question. If you do an initial backup using DVDs, will iTunes allow you to do incremental backups using CDs? I assume the answer to this one has to be "yes," but I just want to be 100% sure.

Thanks again!
 
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Germansuplex

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To answer a couple of questions:

I used DVD+R's with no problem.

Second, you can open the burned DVD's in Window's Explorer and browse the contents just like you can with any other data disc.

The rest I can't answer, because I haven't actually used the discs to back up my library yet. When you insert one of the backup discs into your PC, a window pops up asking you if you'd like iTunes to restore the contents of THAT individual disc. That leads me to believe you can do it on a disc by disc basis, and you are not overwriting your entire library either. It also gives you the option to erase duplicates while restoring, much like ripping a regular CD. But like I said, I haven't followed through, so I can't be sure.

As far as creating the discs, if you have a large library, it's an arduous process, even with DVD's at 16x. It's very streamlined and simple, but it doesn't tell you how many discs you'll need, how many discs left to burn, etc. You pretty much have to guess by dividing the gigs of your library by 4.7 gigs. And iTunes burns slower than pretty much any other program I've used. I've decided that next time, I'm just going to use a third party burning software and burn all my files and iTunes library data files to data dvd. It will go a lot faster and give me practically the same result, albeit I'll have to manually copy the files to PC as opposed to having iTunes do it for me. That's not really too difficult though, especially since Windows and other programs rip from CD/DVD faster than iTunes does.
 

GadgetGuru72

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Germansuplex said:
When you insert one of the backup discs into your PC, a window pops up asking you if you'd like iTunes to restore the contents of THAT individual disc. That leads me to believe you can do it on a disc by disc basis, and you are not overwriting your entire library either.
Thanks for your response.

I find the quoted portion of your response to be a little odd, though. If the restore function works on a disc-by-disc basis, how does iTunes' restore function handle the changes to the iTunes database over time? Let's say that I:

(a) Do a full backup in March, 2007;
(b) Delete some stuff from iTunes in April, 2007;
(c) Add a bunch of new playlists in May, 2007; and
(d) Do an incremental backup in June, 2007.

If I then attempt a restore in July, 2007, if the restore will allow me to restore on a disc-by-disc basis in any order, it seems like it would be very difficult to ensure that the restored files reflect the files that I deleted in April and the new playlists I added in May.

Other backup programs that I've worked with in the past require you to insert the MOST RECENT incremental backup disc FIRST, and then go from there. This seems to be the most logical approach, because the database would reflect your most recent changes.

Are you saying that iTunes' backup feature does not work in this manner?
 

Germansuplex

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From the way it looks on the discs, it looks as if iTunes creates a file onto each disc which it reads when the disc is inserted. My instincts tell me this contains the metadata of the files that are on that particular disc, and if you restore that disc, it will recreate any playlists you had at the time of disc creation and insert only those songs that are on THAT disc and put those songs into the said playlist. It sounds confusing, but again, I'm only speaking on what I THINK happens because I haven't actually restored from a backup.

But if you do a restore from a disc you made in March, you're going to be restoring those files regardless of what you deleted after the backup. Afterall, surely iTunes isn't smart enough to determine whether a file was intentionally or accidentally deleted.

Plus, I would like to think Apple would be wise enough to include a message other than "Would You Like To Restore From This Disc" if you had to use all the discs (or a most recently burned incremental backup disc) to perform a restore. Wouldn't it say something like "Would You Like To Perform A Library Restore"? Also, you don't have to replace existing library files, so that also leads me to believe you can perform a restore while maintaining your current library.

If anyone has actually restored their library with the backup discs, please, give your input because I too am curious as to how this works.
 

Sponge

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Does anyone have any more information on the restore function?

From reading the above posts regarding the speed of burning backup DVDs, has this improved with iTunes7?
 

Jesse Hollington

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I've done a bunch of testing on the whole process, and it does allow you to selectively restore from specific discs, and even selectively restore specific tracks.

When you perform any kind of multi-disc backup, regardless of what kind (ie, full library, changes only, purchased items only), iTunes places a copy of the relevant iTunes library information on the first disc. This database is used primarily to preserve your playlists, although it also serves as a complete backup of your iTunes database for disaster-recovery purposes. Obviously, in the case of a single-disc backup, the database is going to be placed on the first and only disc.

The remaining discs in a multi-disc set will contain only the iTunes media tracks themselves. iTunes also writes a hidden "ContentsDB.xml" file to each disc, containing the external metadata (ratings and play counts) for the tracks on that particular disc. This allows that information to be restored along with those tracks.

When you insert any backup CD/DVD, iTunes will ask you if you want to restore from that disc. If you simply click "OK", iTunes will copy back all files that are on the current disc that don't already exist in your iTunes library. Alternatively, you can select "Overwrite" if you want do restore ALL of the files on that disc, regardless of whether they're already in your library or not. Rating and play count information will also be restored in this process for any tracks that are actually restored (as opposed to those that are skipped because they already exist).

When iTunes finishes restoring the current disc, it will ask you to insert the next one. Discs do not have to be inserted in any particular sequence, as iTunes will just grab whatever data it finds on the next backup disc you insert, and follow the same rules.

When doing a full restore using all of the discs in a multi-disc set, iTunes will also restore your playlists as part of the process. Restored playlists will be put into a sub-folder in iTunes, labelled with the date and time that the playlists were restored. They will not overwrite your existing playlists.

Presumably, iTunes only restores playlists as part of a full restore since it can't otherwise guarantee that all of the tracks that were in those playlists will be restored. Of course, if you're just looking to get back your playlist entries manually, you can always insert the first CD and poke through the "iTunes Library.xml" file yourself.

Incremental backups work in much the same way as full backups, but merely use fewer discs and only backup those tracks that have changed since the last backup. This will include new tracks and any tracks that have had their primary metadata changed (track name, album name, etc). It will not, however, backup tracks that have merely had their ratings or play counts updated. The entire iTunes database, however, is backed up to the first disc with every backup, regardless of the type of backup.

Restoring playlists from an incremental backup creates a different issue as well. Although the restore process works in much the same way, it is entirely possible that the incremental backup may not include all of the tracks that were in the playlists. If this is the case, iTunes will actually notify you that some of the playlist tracks were missing and may be on other discs in other backup sets.

Lastly, note that you can also restore individual files from a backup disc manually. Simply insert the disc, and when iTunes asks you if you want to restore it, select "Cancel." The backup disc will show up in your source list as a CD with a label of BACKUP follow by a data and time stamp. Select it, and you will see a listing of tracks that are on that backup disc, complete with rating and playcount information. Just drag-and-drop any tracks that you want to restore right back to your iTunes library.
 

Germansuplex

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That actually sounds rather intuitive, and not too far from what I guessed. It sounds like the restore process is rather painless then.

I would like to see a more detailed backup process though. It wouldn't need to be much. Just a quick wizard that, after selecting full or incremental backup, you choose the media you are back up to, and iTunes will tell you how many discs you'll need.
 

Jesse Hollington

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Well, iTunes does tell you how many discs are required, but it does this on the basis of reading the actual media that you insert, rather than simply asking you what you're going to be using.

In other words, you select Backup, insert a disc, and iTunes will tell you if more than one disc is required, and how many discs will be required based on whatever capacity of media you've just inserted.

This is probably a more intuitive option anyway, since there are a variety of different media capacities, particularly in the DVD space.
 
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